Fun in the Sun: Finding Science at the Beach


Lovers Key State Park in Ft. Myers, Florida

This summer my family spent some time on the beach in Florida. Ft. Myers Beach and Lovers Key State Park are beautiful. We had a lot of fun in the sand and water, but there were also great opportunities to learn things too. I’m always telling my kids that science is everywhere, and here are some examples of how we found it at the beach. (It’s also a perfect excuse for sharing some of my vacation photos.)


Saving the Sea Turtles

There were sea turtle nests all along the beach. I brought the boys over to see them. We talked about how mature female sea turtles travel back to the beach where they hatched to lay their own eggs, sometimes traveling thousands of miles to get there. They asked if we’d see the baby turtles. I explained that the eggs spend a couple of months in the sand before they hatch. It’s tough to predict when it will happen, but it most often happens at night when the sand is cooler. We also talked about how baby turtles emerge from beneath the sand and scramble toward the brightest spot – which should be the ocean – but often they’re lured in the wrong direction by street lights and lights from nearby homes and businesses. This puts them at risk. (More about sea turtles.)


The Stingray Shuffle

I pointed this sign out to the boys and they asked if they should stay out of the water. I told them not to worry because the last thing a stingray wants is to be stepped on. By shuffling their feet, they’ll be warning the stingrays that they’re nearby. They’ll then swim away to avoid trouble. We didn’t see any stingrays, but we did find some live sand dollars, which we looked at and returned to the wild. We also found a lot of sea shells with ‘mushy’ animals still living inside – which were also returned to the sea. (More about stingrays.)



Hey, These Clam-Things Are Alive!

I was relaxing in the water when my older boy yelled that there was something moving in a pile of sand he’d just dumped from a bucket. It took a minute, but I saw what he was talking about. It was a tiny clam-like animal that seemed to be digging into the sand. We then realized there were hundreds of them – and they were all alive. I pulled out the trusty iPhone, did a quick search, and learned that they’re called Coquina. According to North Carolina Aquariums: “Coquinas usually measure less than an inch long and come in a rainbow of beautiful colors – lavenders, whites, tans, pale blues, deep purples and yellowish-rose. Brilliant bands radiate from the shell’s hinge, and each clam has a slightly different color pattern. These small clams lead a life of almost ceaseless activity. Burrowing rapidly into the sand as a wave recedes, they are unearthed again when the next wave breaks on shore.” We had fun watching them disappear into the sand.

IMG_8467Let’s Go Fly a Kite

Is there any better way to talk about wind resistance and lift than to fly a kite? Once I figured out how to put our giant 3D pirate ship kite together, we got it to sail high into the sky. We kept tension on the line and the stiff ocean breeze held it steady. Honestly, I was just happy I was able to figure out the assembly instructions – which might as well have been written in Klingon. (More about the science of kite flight.)


IMG_8495Dolphins Take Flight

The entire family took a boat tour of Estero Bay, which is also home to a pod of dolphins. Our guide saw a few playing in the distance and brought us for a closer look. When we finally pulled away, the dolphins followed in our wake – magically leaping out of the water. It looked like they were having a great time. I learned there are a few reasons dolphins follow boats:

  • They like to have fun
  • They’re intelligent and curious animals
  • They get a power boost from riding in the wake of a boat – moving a greater distance with less effort.
  • They’re hoping for a snack, which we weren’t providing because it’s illegal.

Fireworks, Courtesy of Mother Nature

Anyone who has lived in, or visited, Florida knows afternoon thunderstorms are the norm during the summer months. My boys are fascinated with weather, especially storms. Every day we checked the daily forecast with WeatherBug app, and during storms, we used it to determine the distance of the closest lightning strike. They know lightning can strike 10 miles from where the rain is falling. They also know that they’re pretty safe inside the house when a storm rolls in. The video above shows flashes in the night sky that some mistakenly call ‘heat lightning.’ It has nothing to do with heat, though. It’s normal lightning that’s really far away, which is why you don’t hear thunder or see a lightning bolt. (More about lightning safety.)

Seaweed Isn’t Gross

Actually, it can be pretty gross – but I took the opportunity to use it as hair for my sand zombie. The boys were less afraid to touch it after they saw me pick it up.

Photo/Video Credits: I shot all of them, mostly with my iPhone.

3 thoughts on “Fun in the Sun: Finding Science at the Beach

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